Lee Duigon, The Last Banquet (2012) and The Fugitive Prince (2013), Storehouse Press, Vallecito, California, books four and five of the Bell Mountain series.
When I was a child, my father read to us aloud L. Frank Baum's Sky Island, the fanciful tale of a boy and girl who, with a colorful old sailor, visit an island in the sky populated by warring tribes of blue and pink people.
It held us spellbound. While Sky Island, like any good children's literature, has a moral center, Lee Duigon's more textured Bell Mountain tales have a distinctly Christian sensibility, much like C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. They are also addictively good yarns.
The remarkably well written, Christian-grounded fantasy series begins with the namesake book, Bell Mountain. In a post-modern, medieval world, two brave children Jack and Ellayne escape an assassin, climb Bell Mountain, ring King Ozias's ancient bell, and usher in a new age where strange creatures lurk and tiny children prophesy.
Meanwhile, in the land of Obann, a Temple-run theocracy holds sway over an easily fooled populace. Against the power of the false religion, the children find allies in wandering prophets, a repentant assassin, newly converted heathens and a little, manlike creature named Wytt who wields a sharpened stick and saves them time and again. Wytt is one of the best things about the books. He is consistently fascinating and steals any passage that he's in.
The action is fast and furious, and it isn't bloodless, although never graphic. People die. Crimes are avenged. Good and evil grapple. As unthinkable treachery unfolds and battles are fought to the death, lifelong foes become friends and new alliances are forged. The Last Banquet, apart from being packed with adventure, shows the need for forgiveness and the transformative power of God's unfathomable grace.
In heathen lands, a mysterious despot called the Thunder King creates his own religion and unleashes hordes of warrior tribes against the country of Obann, whose walled, capital city is built across a river from the ruins of another great city. Promising great rewards, the Thunder King turns trusted authorities into traitors who wreak havoc. But over time, they are no match for the forces loyal to God.
Throughout the books, which include The Cellar Beneath the Cellar and The Thunder King, Mr. Duigon moves the story briskly through palace intrigue, battles, revelations and journeys. He hints, but doesn't come out and say, that the people are descendants from a long ago nuclear holocaust who have handed down stories about people in flying machines who could talk at great distances via magical devices. Are the ruins Denver? Chicago? London? Paris?
The Last Banquet continues the adventures of the boy king Ryons, whose rescue of the city of Obann and his ascension to the throne was dictated by God Himself. In The Fugitive Prince, Ryons is on the lam, headed for the ancient Lintum Forest, where a prophet says a new kingdom will be established. Meanwhile, a new power rises in the East, threatening to engulf the just-freed people of Obann City.
Mighty men converge to try to kill the boy before he reaches the forest. Meanwhile, back at the palace in Obann City, a Ryons lookalike holds court in a manner reminiscent of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. Intrigue builds on intrigue. This is good stuff.
As I enjoy these books, I regret that my own children are now grown, because the series would sound wonderful read aloud.
I very much look forward to reading the Bell Mountain books to grandchildren someday before the kids get addicted to video games.
Robert Knight is an author, Washington Times columnist, Senior Fellow for the American Civil Rights Union, a former news editor and writer for the Los Angeles Times, and former writer for Coral Ridge Ministries, now Truth in Action Ministries.